Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis admitted there was “huge frustration” in Tory ranks at the Brexit chaos but urged members not to switch to the Brexit Party set up by the former Ukip leader. And Nigel Evans, a joint executive-secretary of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, advised fellow MPs to avoid any “dalliances” with the Eurosceptic force. Their appeals yesterday followed reports of possible high-profile defections from the Tories to the Brexit Party, which is being tipped to top the poll in euro elections due to be held in the UK next month following the postponement of the country’s departure from the EU.
One report claimed a source close to Mr Farage said the Brexit Party leader was “100% sure that there is at least one high-profile defection in the pipeline”.
According to leaked messages from a private group of Tory backbenchers on the WhatsApp messaging system, one prominent Brexiteer MP said: “Maybe we should all just defect to the Brexit Party. Can you imagine the chaos?”
Mr Evans said he was not aware of any colleague plotting to defect to the Brexit Party but warned any Tories switching would ultimately help Labour.
He said: “Ninety-nine per cent of Conservative MPs see themselves as Brexit Tories and we want to deliver the clean Brexit that we promised in 2017.
“Sadly, the Labour Party have dramatically shifted towards Brexit in name only and the customs union and single market which betrays their 2017 election promises .
“The Brexit Party is superfluous to the Brexit Tories and any dalliances with them at a general election could let in a Brexit-in-name-only Labour Party dominated by fanatical Remainers.”
Mr Lewis urged the Tories to back the party in this Thursday’s local elections despite the anger at the Brexit delays.
“I hope that Conservative members, colleagues, volunteers, activists will come to want to not just vote for, but campaign for Conservatives to get elected, because ultimately Conservative representation is better than any other party,” he said.
He insisted ministers still wanted the win Commons backing for Theresa May’s Brexit deal in time to cancel the euro elections due on May 23.
“I don’t deny the frustration people in our party have over where we are on Brexit. I share that frustration, I want to get this done so we don’t fight those European elections,” Mr Lewis said in an interview on the BBC1 Andrew Marr Show.”
Refusing to say when the Tories would launch their campaign for the euro elections, he added: “Our first priority is to not have to fight the European elections. I think we should be looking to do everything we can to respect that 2016 referendum.
“If and when we are at the point where we know we are definitely fighting those European elections then we will take some decisions about that.”
He played down reports about donors deserting the party, insisting that 2018 had been a “record peacetime fundraising year”.
“I fully appreciate the huge frustration that particularly our members and councillors have, that we haven’t left the EU yet and we might have to fight these elections at all. But if we do, I hope they’ll vote Conservative,” he said.
Senior Tories fear the party could lose more than 800 council seats in Thursday’s elections for 248 local authorities in England.
Conservative Party Deputy Chair Helen Whately, speaking on Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday show, said: “There is no doubt that it is going to be a difficult night for us, the local elections are going to be difficult.
“I also recognise that nationally we have been busy trying to do Brexit and in the meantime yes, policy work is going on but there is only so much bandwidth but I do think this is a good moment to not be talking so much about Brexit but to focus on what local councils do for people.”
A YouGov study for Hope Not Hate put the Tories on just 13 percent for the European contest, behind the Brexit Party on 28 percent and Labour on 22 percent.
The Tories were just three points ahead of the Greens and Change UK on 10 percent, with the Liberal Democrats on 7 percent and Ukip on 5 percent in the poll of 5,412 British adults conducted between April 23 and 26.
It emerged on Sunday that Tory chiefs have issued a warning that any Tory activists caught campaigning for the Brexit Party risked being expelled.
A leaked email from the Conservative Party Board said: “All party members, including elected representatives at all levels, are expected to fully support the party in all elections.
“Campaigning for or endorsement of any other political party is incompatible with membership of the party.
“The board will not hesitate to enforce these rules.”